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Elkin (2003) - Rosalind Franklin & the Double Helix

Elkin (2003) - Rosalind Franklin & the Double Helix...

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I n 1962, James Watson, then at Harvard University, and Cambridge University’s Francis Crick stood next to Mau- rice Wilkins from King’s College, London, to receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their “discover- ies concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.” Watson and Crick could not have proposed their celebrated structure for DNA as early in 1953 as they did without ac- cess to experimental results obtained by King’s College sci- entist Rosalind Franklin. Franklin had died of cancer in 1958 at age 37, and so was ineligible to share the honor. Her conspicuous absence from the awards ceremony—the dramatic culmination of the struggle to determine the structure of DNA—probably contributed to the neglect, for several decades, of Franklin’s role in the DNA story. She most likely never knew how significantly her data influ- enced Watson and Crick’s proposal. Capsule biography Franklin, shown in figures 1 and 2, was born 25 July 1920 to Muriel Waley Franklin and merchant banker Ellis Franklin, both members of educated and socially conscious Jewish families. They were a close immediate family, prone to lively discussion and vigorous debates at which the politically liberal, logical, and determined Rosalind ex- celled: She would even argue with her assertive, conser- vative father. Early in life, Rosalind manifested the cre- ativity and drive characteristic of the Franklin women, and some of the Waley women, who were expected to focus their education, talents, and skills on political, educa- tional, and charitable forms of community service. It was thus surprising when young Rosalind expressed an early fascination with physics and chemistry classes at the aca- demically rigorous St. Paul’s Girls’ School in London, and unusual that she earned a bachelor’s degree in natural sci- ences with a specialty in physical chemistry. The degree was earned at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1941. From 1942 to 1946, Franklin did war-related gradu- ate work with the British Coal Utilization Research Asso- ciation. That work earned her a PhD from Cambridge in 1945, and an offer to join the Laboratoire Central des Ser- vices Chimiques de l’Etat in Paris. She worked there, from 1947 to 1950, with Jacques Mering and became proficient at applying x-ray diffraction techniques to imperfectly crystalline matter such as coal. In the period 1946–49, she published five landmark coal-related papers, still cited today, on graphitizing and nongraphitizing carbons. By 1957, she had published an additional dozen articles on carbons other than coals. Her papers changed the way physical chemists view the mi- crostructure of coals and related sub- stances. Franklin made many friends in the Paris laboratory and often hiked with them on weekends. She preferred to live on her own modest salary and frustrated her parents by continually refusing to accept money from them. She excelled at speaking French and at French cooking and soon became more comfortable with
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